Becoming what women want : formations of masculinity in postfeminist film and television

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A Thesis Submitted for the Degree of PhD at the University of Warwick

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Becoming What Women Want:

Formations of Masculinity in

Postfeminist Film and Television

by

Lauren Jade Thompson

A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the

requirements for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy in Film and Television

Studies

University of Warwick, Department of

Film and Television Studies

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS V

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS XI

DECLARATION XII

ABSTRACT XIII

INTRODUCTION 1

THE HIDDEN GENDER, THE HIDDEN CONSUMER, THE HIDDEN HOMEMAKER:

POSTFEMINISM AND MASCULINITY 28

A REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE 28

UNDERSTANDINGPOSTFEMINISM 28

NEO-FEMINISM 34

“ELEMENTS OF A SENSIBILITY” 38

HIDDENPOSTFEMINISTSUBJECTS 44

MASCULINITY ANDCONSUMPTION 50

HISTORICISINGMASCULINITY: THEINVISIBLEGENDER 57

POSTFEMINISM, NEOLIBERALISM ANDCLASS 67

UNDERSTANDING MEN AND HOME 73

MASCULINITY AND THE MAINTENANCE OF HETEROSEXUAL COUPLING IN

MAKEOVER AND LIFESTYLE TELEVISION 78

INTRODUCTION 78

CONTEXT 81

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CORPUS 90

LIFESTYLETELEVISION AND THECOUPLE 96

MAKEOVER ANDAPPEARANCE 107

SURVEILLANCE,MAKEOVER AND GENDER 108

AESTHETIC TECHNOLOGIES AND CONSUMPTION 118

MAKINGMAKEOVERMASCULINE 121

THESUIT 132

HARD ANDSOFTBODIES 141

DOMESTICLIFE ANDCOUPLING 147

COHABITATION ANDLABOUR 154

SEX 165

FEELINGS& SUBJECTIVITY 169

CONCLUSIONS 180

CONTEMPORARY MASCULINITY AND THE SITCOM 183

INTRODUCTION 183

SITCOMHISTORIES 185

INCOMPLETEMAKEOVERS: MASCULINITY, TECHNOLOGIES OF THESELF AND THESITCOM

195

SITCOMDOMESTICITY 207

MASCULINEDISRUPTION OFFEMININEHOMES 213

MASCULINE DOMESTICITY IN THE SITCOM:DYSFUNCTION AS EQUILIBRIUM 223

INSIDE THEHETEROSEXUALCLOSET 242

FORMATIONS OFMASCULINITY INHOWI METYOURMOTHER 247

A SUBJECT FOR THE NOUGHTIES: AN UNMARRIED MAN 272

DEFINING THEROMANTICSEXCOMEDY 275

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THEPLAYBOYBACHELOR 294

THEMANCHILD 317

BROKENMEN 333

AGEINGMASCULINITIES 352

CONCLUSIONS, ENDINGS,ANDBACKLASH 364

CONCLUSION: NEW HEGEMONIES OF MASCULINITY 367

APPENDIX 1: ROMANTIC SEX COMEDY DVD COVERS 381

APPENDIX 2: DVD COVERS: A SHIFT IN AESTHETICS? 382

BIBLIOGRAPHY 383

FILMOGRAPHY 396

FILMS 396

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LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

Figure Description Page

1.1 Attempting makeover inWhat Women Want 2 1.2 Marketing image for ASDA’s Body Sculpt Vest 3 1.3 Products from Superdrug’s ‘TAXIMAN’ make-up range 3 1.4 Masculine training inMy Date With Drew 5 1.5 ‘Male grooming’ inMy Date With Drew 5 1.6 ‘You go girl’: gazing at the self inWhat Women Want 9 1.7 The mirror inWhat Women Want 9 2.1 ‘L’Enfant’ (1987, Spencer Rowell) 52

3.1 Extreme close-up 111

3.2 The invasive camera 111 3.3 The ‘line up’ inExtreme Male Beauty 114 3.4 Scrutiny of the male body 114 3.5 Abstraction of problem body parts 114 3.6 Surveilling self-surveillance: The mirror booth inWhat Not

To Wear 116

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3.16 Inspiration: Cary Grant 140 3.17 Rejecting the after image inExtreme Male Beauty 147 3.18 Stripping out the kitchen 150 3.19 Wardrobe invasion 150 3.20 Investigating the bathroom 150 3.21 “Anybody got a match?”: Tom Minogue’s apartment

post-invasion 150

3.22 Teaching men domestic skills inWhat Not To Wear 152 3.23 Surveilling the self: the screening room inWho Does What? 157 3.24 Surveillance aesthetics inWho Does What? 158 3.25 Who Does What?: The expert addresses the audience, not the

couple 160

3.26 “The top five turn ons for British women” 168 3.27 “If you want more sex, do more housework” 168 3.28 “We want to know how youfeel 178 4.1 Failed makeover inWhatever Happened to the Likely Lads? 201

4.2 Ross’s tan 202

4.3 Facials 202

4.4 Ross’s teeth 203

4.5 Joey’s bag 203

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4.15 Watching TV inHancock’s Half Hour 220 4.16 Fourth wall as television inHow I Met Your Mother 222 4.17 “It’s a 300 inch flatscreen” 222

4.18 Foosball table 225

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4.43 “Nothing suits me like a suit” 259 4.44 The sitcom meets the musical 260

4.45 “ThePlayboytown house” 263

4.46 “ThePlayboytown house” - bedroom 263

4.47 Barney’s kitchen 263

4.48 “ThePlayboytown house” - kitchen 263

4.49 Barney’s living room 263

4.50 “ThePlayboytown house” – living Room 263

4.51 The bedroom as stage 265 4.52 The fourth wall as window 265

5.1 An Unmarried Woman 288

5.2 The 40-Year-Old Virgin 288

5.3 The playboy bachelor inGhosts of Girlfriends Past(Matthew

McConaughey) 296

5.4 The playboy bachelor inCrazy, Stupid, Love(Ryan Gosling) 296 5.5 The playboy bachelor inHow To Lose a Guy In 10 Days

(Matthew McConaughey)

296

5.6 Close-up of Jacob’s shoe 297

5.7 The upward tilt 297

5.8 An image from ‘Feminist Ryan Gosling’ 299 5.9 Ben’s bachelor pad inHow To Lose A Guy in 10 Days 303 5.10 Dylan’s bachelor pad inFriends with Benefits 303 5.11 Jacob’s bachelor pad inCrazy, Stupid, Love 303 5.12 The aesthetics of feminine domesticity: Anne’s home inThe

Bachelor

305

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5.18 Jimmie’s closeted heterosexual past 310 5.19 The apartment as stage 314 5.20 Performing seduction 315

5.21 TheDirty Dancinglift 315

5.22 The camera moves inside 315 5.23 The contrasting aesthetics of the bedroom inCrazy, Stupid,

Love 316

5.24 The manchild (Andy) inThe 40-Year-Old Virgin 319 5.25 The manchild (Ben) inKnocked Up 319 5.26 ‘Ford’s Foundation’ (Leibovitz, 2006) 321 5.27 ‘The Pretty Young Things’ (Leibovitz, 2009) 321 5.28 The manchild’s shared home inKnocked Up 324 5.29 The manchild at play 324

5.30 Rollercoaster 324

5.31 Alison’s morning 324 5.32 The exterior of the mancave 326 5.33 “Welcome to the Temple of Doom” 326 5.34 The ‘cool’ interior of the mancave 326 5.35 The interior of the mancave 326

5.36 Andy’s bedroom 328

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5.46 Returning to childhood inHot Tub Time Machine 339 5.47 Mike confronts his teenage self in17 Again 339 5.48 The home as a space for leisure: the pool table inThe

Break-Up 340

5.49 Breaking the public/private divide: the home as strip club 340 5.50 The home as frat house inOld School 340 5.51 The public space of Jimmie’s work matches the aesthetics of

the bachelor pad 340

5.52 Cal before the makeover 345 5.53 Crazy, Stupid, Love’smythologisation of the bachelor 345 5.54 Cal steps into the store 346 5.55 The contrast between the playboy bachelor and the failing

man 346

5.56 Shopping montage inCrazy, Stupid, Love 347 5.57 Shopping montage inCrazy, Stupid, Love 347 5.58 Dressing montage inAmerican Gigolo 347 5.59 Dressing montage inAmerican Gigolo 347 5.60 Cal as the ‘after’ of the makeover 350 5.61 Wayne’s bed as the vehicle to the past inGhosts of Girlfriends

Past 354

5.62 Connor strips the feminine from Wayne’s bedroom 354 5.63 Connor’s funeral inGhosts of Girlfriends Past 355 5.64 Connor’s ex-lovers bury the bachelor 355 5.65 Peter and Sydney’s “marriage” inI Love You, Man 365 5.66 The camera moves away from the wedding inI Love You,

Man

365

6.1 Tom at the start ofThe Five-Year Engagement: A choosable

partner 368

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

First and foremost, thanks must go to the Film and Television Studies Department at the University of Warwick. Thanks to all of the staff there for their support over the past three years. Thanks in particular to Helen Wheatley, who supervised the project for a year and whose input was invaluable in bringing the research forward during its formative stages.

There are many special people in Warwick Film & Television’s postgraduate population, past and present, that need thanking. In alphabetical order, thanks to Fiona Cox, Adam Gallimore, Jo Oldham, Nic Pillai, Charlotte Stevens, and Owen Weetch. Thanks to James MacDowell, who was always willing to chat about romcoms with me. Special thanks to Greg Frame and Hannah Andrews for endless support, encouragement and fun distractions.

I am also indebted to the AHRC, who generously funded my course of study, and the Midlands Television Research Group who welcomed me in,

challenged my knowledge of the field and sparked off many new ideas.

Thanks must also go to a few special people from my undergraduate days. Sarah and Hayley – thanks for letting me escape up to Liverpool every now and again and for remaining so constantly bright and amazing. Thanks to all of the staff in the Screen School at Liverpool John Moores, and especially to Yannis Tzoumakis for putting the idea of doing a PhD in my head in the first place.

Rachel. There are no words for how privileged I’ve felt to have such an amazingly supportive supervisor. Right from the beginning, you saw the potential in this project and challenged me to get there. You believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself and that has meant everything. I feel totally blessed to have had the benefit of your expertise and wisdom

Róisín Muldoon, you have kept me sane and I can’t really say more than that. Love you millions. Hayley Merchant, I always hoped that I’d come out of this process having learnt a lot, but I never dreamt that I would come out with a new best friend. It has been a complete honour to share the ups and downs and downward dogs of this journey with you.

Massive thanks of course to my family, who are my constant rock and inspire me every single day. I love you guys with all my heart.

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DECLARATION

This thesis is submitted in accordance with the regulations for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. I confirm that the material contained within it is my own work and has not been submitted for a degree at another university.

Parts of Chapter 4 have been submitted for publication as Thompson, Lauren Jade (2013) "Mancaves and Cushions: Marking Masculine and Feminine Domestic Space in Postfeminist Romantic Comedy” in Gwynne, Joel and Nadine Muller (eds)Postfeminism and Contemporary Hollywood. London: BFI Palgrave.

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ABSTRACT

This thesis uses a range of recent television and film texts to interrogate postfeminist media formations of masculinity. In particular, this work

focuses on increasingly prevalent media narratives that are about producing men as suitable romantic partners for postfeminist women. Arguing that existing literature on postfeminism ignores or trivialises the issue of masculinity, this thesis addresses new cultural formations of masculinity that are linked not only to postfeminist discourse, but also related cultural and economic shifts such as post-industrialisation and the rise of neo-liberal cultural politics. Analysing texts from the mid-1990s to 2012, the work argues that such representations are rife with tensions and contradictions. They represent in part an ungendering of previously feminine arenas (such as the makeover, and the home) yet are also marked by a discourse that requires the reassertion of sexual difference and the maintenance of heteronormativity. As such, the urge towards coupling becomes central to these formations, across the range of texts discussed within this thesis. The thesis argues that postfeminist media representations of masculinity are often characterised by an interplay between dominant, residual and emergent formations.

In the makeover show, the mission is to improve a man to satisfy his existing partner (perhaps as preparation for a proposal) or to ready him for entry into the dating market. In the lifestyle show, the advice given on how to manage domestic labour is committed to encouraging harmony between the heterosexual couple. The homebuilding sitcom focuses on the challenges of the transition between youth and the establishment of a family unit: finding the right partner, settling down, building a home, having children. The Hollywood romantic comedy, even in its recent, male-centred incarnations, still presents successful coupling as integral, essential, and inevitable, even if its attitude to the union is sometimes ambivalent. In all of these television and film genres, there is a considerable focus on how men must change in order to become, and stay, "marriageable".

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INTRODUCTION

In the romantic comedy filmWhat Women Want(Nancy Meyers,

2000), chauvinistic advertising executive Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson) is

overlooked for promotion to creative director in favour of a dynamic,

strident female executive from a rival agency, Darcy Maguire (Helen Hunt).

With much regret, Nick's boss, Dan Wanamaker (Alan Alda) informs him

about the changed landscape of the advertising industry that has rendered

his talents defunct:

The eighties were our glory days. They were all about alcohol, tobacco and cars. I was on top of my game. And then in the 90s, men simply stopped dominating how the dollars are spent. We lost our compass. Women between the ages of 16 to 24 are the fastest growing consumer group in the country. We're talking about girls who were born in the mid-80s who control our advertising

dollars...the industry's been transformed.

Here, a shifted discursive context of gender and economics is explicitly

invoked as background to narrative conflict. The agency’s failure to respond

to the changing gender cultures, economic conditions and representational

paradigms of postfeminist, post-industrial and neo-liberal culture has lead

to them being 'left behind' by their competition.1Their advertising

campaigns, described by Nick's female assistant as being 'T and A' (tits and

ass), reflect a paradigm of sexualised female representation that, used

without irony, the film critiques as being outdated and archaic. Nick, in the

introduction to the film, is explicitly linked to a pre-second-wave-feminist

1I deliberately use the unhyphenated spelling ‘postfeminist’ throughout this work, as

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era through the use of a Rat Pack soundtrack and explicit references to

1960s sex comedies.

During Darcy's first meeting at the company, she introduces the staff of

Sloane Curtis to the concept of 'female driven advertising', a '$40 billion

dollar pie' that the agency 'can't afford to not have a piece of'. To that end,

she has produced a box of products looking for new representation, all of

which are aimed at women. She runs through the contents of the kit, for the

benefit of the bewildered men in the room. Each kit contains:

 anti-wrinkle cream  mascara

 moisturising lipstick  bath beads

 quick dry nail polish  a home waxing kit

 a more wonderful Wonderbra  a home pregnancy test

 hair volumiser  pore cleansing strips  Advil

 control top pantyhose  a Visa card

Later in the film, an inebriated

Nick is shown struggling to use

the cosmetic products in the

box (Fig 1.1). His lack of

expertise with technologies of the

self such as waxing means that his

attempt at ‘makeover’ fails, leaving him dishevelled and in pain. What is

ironic about this scene is that, twelve years down the line, many of these

products and treatments are now routinely marketed to and used by men as FIGURE 1.1 – AT TEMP TI NG

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well as women. Male versions of anti-wrinkle creams, hair mousses and

pore-cleansing strips are readily available on the high street, and male

versions of mascara, eye-liner and sculpting underwear have proven

extremely successful for those canny enough to market them (Fig 1.3).2A

rise in male-only salons indicates a booming market for treatments such as

waxing and facials. And yet, a little over a decade ago, the image of a man

being confronted and bemused by such a box of treats was not only credible,

but a source of humour in a film aimed at a predominantly female audience.

2A case in point here is UK supermarket chain Asda’s £7 sculpting vest (Fig 1.2), which was

so successful that the first batch reportedly sold out online within 4 minutes (Evans 2011, Internet).

FIGURE 1.2 –MARKET ING IMAGE FOR AS DA ’S BO DY S CULPT VE S T

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In a documentary film released just four years later, a montage sequence

illustrates a shift in the expectations, assumptions and routines of male

self-care as presented by Hollywood cinema.My Date With Drew(Jon Gunn,

Brian Herzlinger, Brett Winn, 2004) features a montage sequence in which

the protagonist’s masculinity is explicitly trained, tamed and trimmed into

terms acceptable for heterosexual coupling. In a move that displays a

progression from Nick’s unfamiliarity and unease with aesthetic

technologies inWhat Women Want,My Date With Drew’sBrian Herzlinger is

carefully led through a routine of self-improvement, under the supervision

of a raft of female experts including a personal trainer, hairdressers and

shopping assistants. This makeover montage begins as Brian receives a

phone call confirming that Drew Barrymore has agreed to meet him for a

date. A worried Brian notes that ‘that gives me one week to prepare for this’

as the soundtrack swells into Hall & Oates’ ‘You Make My Dreams’. As well as

the perhaps more traditionally masculine activity of disciplining the body

through physical training such as weightlifting and boxing (Fig 1.4), the

montage shows Brian having his hair highlighted, cut and straightened (Fig

1.5), and being taken on a shopping trip for clothes. While Brian is still

shown to need the expert guidance of women in order to undertake these

procedures, and the montage is clearly tongue-in-cheek, a man undergoing

this beautifying process is no longer the absurd and outlandish prospect

that it was inWhat Women Want. It is this gradual shift towards the

normalisation of cultures of ‘male grooming’ and concern with personal

aesthetics that I am concerned with here, as well as the ways in which such

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Brian and the filmmakers ofMy Date With Drewstage his makeover as an

essential part of his preparation for his date, and thus one of the broad

concerns of this thesis is the way in which postfeminist media texts

construct stories about preparing masculinity for coupling.

Indeed, just over a decade after the release ofWhat Women Want, there has

been a notable rise in romantic comedy films that are concerned with

encounters between masculinity and postfeminist space and culture.

Though he might start off as a slobby, unsuccessful loser or a womanising

bachelor, the narratives of films within this sub-genre frequently chart a

man's transformation to the 'after' of a makeover and ideal romantic

partner. Beyond Hollywood cinema, there is a raft of television programmes,

advertisements and industries that promote the adoption of the aesthetic

technologies of the self, so unfamiliar to Nick in 2000, as an emergent part of

a culture of masculine self-care or ‘male grooming’. The example ofWhat

Women Want’s narrative assuming, and drawing humour from, Nick’s

unfamiliarity with aesthetic technologies illustrates the cultural shift that

has occurred even over this short period of time.What Women Wantcan be FIGURE 1.4 – MAS CULI NE TRA INING

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seen as a precursor to a series of films that place a male protagonist at the

centre of the rom-com. More importantly, perhaps, it foreshadows the

proliferation of images of male makeover across a number of media forms,

particularly in the lifestyle television genre, sitcom, films and advertising

during the intervening decade, and the narrative of male transformation has

formed the centre of an increasing number of Hollywood films, particularly

in a sub-genre of the romantic comedy that Tamar Jeffers McDonald has

dubbed 'the hommecom' (2006, p. 107). Taken as a group, these films and

television texts can be seen to reflect cultural anxiety over the status of

masculinity in the contemporary postfeminist society, especially in relation

to heterosexual coupling.

These introductory textual examples, drawn from two very different recent

films, share a common theme that is a central concern of an increasing

number of film and television texts: the interaction between men and arenas

of culture and consumption previously gendered as feminine. They also

share a transformation narrative that is ultimately about producing men as

suitable romantic partners for contemporary heterosexual women.

Broadly, this thesis is concerned with these changing images of masculinity

and the formations of masculine identity that emerge within and through

contemporary film and television. Aiming to provide a feminist analysis of

an underexplored area in contemporary gender studies, this thesis works to

understand the position of masculinity within the discourses of postfeminist

culture and its paradigms of makeover, surveillance, gazing at the self,

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examines contemporary audio-visual media’s increasingly prevalent and

prominent ‘worrying at’ images and representations of failing and/or

deficient men (Wheatley 2005, p. 149). These texts are explored as part of a

discursive context that can broadly be described as post-industrial,

postfeminist, neo-liberal and characterised by a culture of normative

heterosexuality.

‘Postfeminism’ is a contested cultural term in academic discourse, and a

more comprehensive definition and overview of its implications and history

will be outlined in the review of literature of this thesis. Fundamentally,

however, I shall be using ‘postfeminism’ here in line with Rosalind Gill’s

definition, as a ‘sensibility that characterises an increasing numbers of films,

television shows, advertisements and other media products’ (2007, p. 148).

Like Gill, it is my firm belief that ‘postfeminist media culture should be our

critical object’, and as such I am interested in ‘the contradictory nature of

postfeminist discourses and the entanglement of both feminist and

anti-feminist themes within them’ as displayed by popular television and film

(ibid., pp. 148-9).

The dynamics of the postfeminist discourses that Gill outlines are forcibly

visible inWhat Women Wantas elements of Nick’s transformation. In order

to use the products that promise self-improvement, Nick must first reform

his subjectivity into one amenable to transformation – in this case imagined

as a feminine position. He encourages himself to ‘think like a broad’,

changing the diegetic music in his apartment from Frank Sinatra (‘the

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‘Bitch’) stolen from his teenage daughter’s backpack. He attempts to

convince himself that ‘this is supposed to be fun’, reflecting Gill’s

observation that the strict routines of self-care that are normalized within

postfeminist culture must always be experienced ‘as “fun”, “pampering” or

“self-indulgence”’ (2007, p. 155). This scene sees Nick learn how to gaze at

the self, internalizing the ‘self-policing and narcissistic’ gaze of postfeminist

subjectivity (ibid., p. 151). The beginning of his transformation is

highlighted with a shot of Nick swinging around to view his reflection in the

plate glass window of his apartment. In a soft, sultry voice, he repeats the

slogan 'you go girl!' at himself (Fig. 1.6). The film then immediately cuts to

another shot of Nick's reflection, this time in the bathroom mirror (Fig. 1.7).

The process of Nick's 'makeover', in which he will attempt to use, with

varying degrees of success, all the products in Darcy's box, is signalled very

pointedly by two matched shots that emphasise the act of looking at one's

self. Such a structure of representation supports Rosalind Gill's claim that

contemporary femininity is characterised by subjectification and an urge to

internalise a gaze at the self (ibid., p. 149). Already, then, we see men being

brought into the postfeminist representational paradigm, and it is these

increasingly common interactions between masculinity and aspects of

culture that have been identified as emblematic of the postfeminist moment

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Furthermore, I see postfeminist culture as inextricably linked to a number of

other social contexts and material conditions of life in the early twenty-first

century. Gill’s work has already noted the significant intersections between

postfeminist discourse and neo-liberal forms of governmentality, going as

far as to suggest that ‘the ideal disciplinary subject of neo-liberalism is

feminine’ (2007, p. 157). Indeed, many of Gill’s ‘stable features of

postfeminism’ could also be determined to constitute a neo-liberal

discourse: the shift from objectification to subjectification, for example, and

the emphasis on freedom of choice at the same time as self-surveillance,

monitoring and discipline (ibid., p. 149). Both postfeminism and

neo-liberalism share a concern with the ‘conduct of conduct’ (Rose 1999, p. 3).

Much of the lifestyle and makeover television under consideration within

this thesis has been discussed in these terms, framed as tools of

governmentality under neo-liberalism. ‘Reality’ television programmes, FIGURE 1.6 – ‘YO U GO GIRL’ : GA ZI NG AT T HE SELF I NW HA T WO ME N

WAN T

FIGURE 1.7 –THE MI RRO R I N W HA T

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argue Laurie Ouellette and James Hay, operate within ‘an analytic of

government’ which ‘emphasizes television as a resource for acquiring and

coordinating the techniques for managing the various aspects of one’s life’

(Ouellette and Hay 2008, p. 12). Similarly, Gareth Palmer argues that the

‘market model – the idea that one can create oneself from a supply of

commodities’ is ‘fundamental’ to lifestyle television (2008, p. 2). Whilst I do

see neo-liberalism as an important and formative discursive context for the

makeover show and lifestyle television more generally, I would argue that to

see these texts as products of neo-liberalism alone is too deterministic.

Ouellette and Hay’s wish to view television as ‘cultural technology’ as well as

‘cultural practice’ or ‘political economic practice’ is one with which I am

sympathetic, but neo-liberalism is but one cultural context in which these

texts sit. I wish, therefore, to view these texts as being products of a

particular historical moment, during which neo-liberalist ideology interacts

with other social contexts, particularly a post-industrial labour economy,

and other trends in media representations of gender, particularly those

aspects that might be considered constitutive of a postfeminist sensibility.

It is also the case that post-industrialism, and the economic and material

conditions that it entails, underpinandare used to legitimise the logics of

neo-liberalism and postfeminism. The shift in the Western world to a

service-based economy has also been read in many quarters as a

feminisation of the workforce, with the ‘soft’ skills demanded by employers

in these sectors seen as more aligned with femininity – empathy,

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physical strength required by many primary and secondary sector jobs.

Such jobs are also far more likely to be low-paid, part-time and/or offer little

prospect of advancement or training. The decline of industry in the Western

world and the divestiture of such operations to Majority World countries

have contributed to these patterns. ‘[T]he prevalence of corporate

restructuring and downsizing’ has created a ‘risk economy’, where work is

contingent and temporary, and Western economies are characterised by

‘growing economic disparity between the rich and poor’ (Leonard 2007, p.

106). The growth in the number of women who are economically active has

also lead to a rise in dual-income households where both partners work

full-time.3In an example of how inextricably linked post-industrialism and

postfeminist discourses are, recent newspaper reports have blamed a

‘mancession’ for the increase in the number of households with female

breadwinners and stay-at-home ‘househusbands’: a figure which has,

according to research carried out by the Office for National Statistics forThe

Spectator, tripled over the past 15 years (Brown 2012, Internet).

Most obviously, it seems to me, the shifts in these conditions have major

implications for the formation and maintenance of heterosexual couples, a

unit that is still presented as normative even in an age of civil partnerships,

gay marriage and high divorce rates. The urge towards the formation and

maintenance of heterosexual coupling is central to the narrative, thematic

and representational logic of all of the popular film and television genres

under consideration within this thesis. In the makeover show, the mission is

3According to research published inSocial Trends 41, the employment rate for women rose

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to improve a man to satisfy his existing partner (perhaps as preparation for

a proposal) or to ready him for entry into the dating market. In the lifestyle

show, the advice given on how to mange domestic labour is committed to

encouraging harmony between the heterosexual couple. The homebuilding

sitcom focuses on the challenges of the transition between youth and the

establishment of a family unit: finding the right partner, settling down,

building a home, and having children. The Hollywood romantic comedy,

even in its recent, male-centred incarnations, still presents successful

coupling as integral, essential, and inevitable, even if its attitude to the union

is sometimes ambivalent. In all of these television and film genres, there is a

considerable focus on how men must change in order to become, and stay,

‘marriageable’ (McGee 2005, p. 12).

While most analyses of postfeminist culture to date have focused on women,

many have been quick to note the highly prescriptive set of life choices

presented as desirable, especially in relation to coupling. Postfeminist

discourses ‘relentlessly stress…matrimonial and maternalist models of

female subjectivity’ (Negra 2009, p. 5). ‘The marital couple re-emerges as

the favoured form of family life’ and therefore the ‘demarcated pathologies’

of postfeminist culture include ‘failing to find a good catch’ (McRobbie 2009,

p. 86; McRobbie 2007a, p. 35). Increasingly, this thesis will argue,

postfeminist culture seeks to bring men into this paradigm too, where

singledom is pathologised and the formation of a couple is seen as evidence

of success and represents achieved personhood. The increasing number of

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characters, and the frequency with which a television makeover is carried

out in order to enable a marriage proposal are just two of the most obvious

indicators of this shift. However, given the material and social context

outlined above, it is perhaps not unexpected that the formation of an

on-screen couple is complicated by anxieties, tensions and paradoxes,

especially in relation to masculinity and its status. In 2006, Tony Jefferson

wrote that ‘it is almost as if to succeed in love, one has to fail as a man’ (p. 9).

In many ways, what follows in this thesis is an extended analysis of how

various contemporary forms have attempted to explore, examine, represent,

negotiate and re-tell this paradox and the attendant cultural anxieties

around masculine subjectivity that come with it.

The intensification of these discourses of heterosexual romance and

coupling against an economic backdrop in which women are no longer

necessarily financially dependent upon men has led to a growing promotion

of the concept of a ‘dating market’, evidenced not just by a raft of services

for singles (online dating, matchmaking, speed dating) but also a rapid

increase in television shows about finding, selecting and/or producing the

right partner. These can be as diverse as dating shows such asTake Me Out

(2010-), to a whole range of ‘reality’ television shows such asCelebrity Love

Island(2005-2006), game shows likePlaying It Straight(2005; 2012) and

The Bachelor(2002-), and documentaries likeWife Swap(2003-2009). In

the makeover shows, sitcoms, and films discussed within this thesis we see

men being required to undergo transformations in their appearance, skills

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images, narratives, representations and, often, jokes, contained within these

transformation media texts are a way of ‘working through’, or, as Helen

Wheatley puts it, ‘worrying at’ the issue of postfeminist masculine

subjectivity and identity (Ellis 2000, p. 79; Wheatley 2005, p. 149).

Joseph Pleck’s work on gender role strain addresses the problems of

trauma, discrepancy, incongruity and dysfunction that arise as men attempt

to live up to cultural ideas of masculinity (2006). It is these issues that the

texts under consideration here work through, exacerbated by the paradoxes

and contradictions outlined in the increasing address of postfeminism’s

governing discourses to men and around the production of masculine

identities. Indeed, one might even argue that many of the texts under

consideration here areaboutthe issue of gender role strain itself. My aims

here have much in common with Diane Negra’s 2009 monograph,What A

Girl Wants, which explores ‘the role of the media in collaborating/fostering

emergent shifts in social norms and behaviours’ in relation to ‘the ways

which postfeminism conceptualizes home, work, time and the commodity

landscape’ for women. I am interested in addressing these same issues in

relation to masculinity. Like Negra’s work, the aim of this thesis is not to

provide a definitive statement about what ‘postfeminist masculinity’ is (p.

8). Instead, I want to use this space to explore productively the tensions,

anxieties and negotiations that are at play in emergent cultural

constructions of postfeminist formations of masculinity. Like Negra, ‘I am

less concerned with producing a totalizing account than with mapping the

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literature review that follows will demonstrate, to undertake this task in

relation to masculinity is to address a large and significant gap in work on

postfeminist culture; to begin to shed light upon the position of men in what

is obviously a highly gender-conscious discourse.

My deliberate rejection of the possibility of a totalizing definition of

postfeminist masculinity is informed by a belief that the discourses under

consideration here are best understood asin process, rather than as being

involved in the production of fixed identities. Following the model of

exploring the ‘internal dynamic relations’ of cultural process put forward by

Raymond Williams, I therefore see postfeminist formations of masculinity as

moulded and shaped by not just dominant, but also ‘residual’ and ‘emergent’

characteristics (1977). In the light of this, I am choosing not to define

‘postfeminist masculinity’ as something distinct from ‘traditional

masculinity’. Instead, I am interested in discussing the ways in which

transatlantic postfeminist television and cinema tracks transformations in

the role of men through formations that hold continuities with hegemonic,

and even archaic, depictions of masculinity alongside ‘new’ emergent

masculine images, emphases and values.

Postfeminist culture embraces the gains made by the feminist movement

and uses the discourses of emancipation and choice to bring women into a

consuming, self-surveilling, governmental mode of citizenship. Many

commentators have argued that postfeminism operates this disciplinary

regime with the aim of ‘re-stabilizing gender relations’ (McRobbie 2007b, p.

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necessarily promote a return to the ‘traditional’ gender roles of nineteenth

century industrialisation (although some prevalent postfeminist discourses,

such as retreatism, do include this element). Rather, as McRobbie suggests,

postfeminist discourses seem to be involved in the establishment of a

‘post-feminist gender settlement’, and the formation of ‘a new sexual contract’

(ibid.). While McRobbie’s analysis focuses on the implications of the process

for women, and its expression through female representations, a ‘new

sexual contract’ must necessarily have another side to it. What position are

men being secured into in this new sexual contract? How ismasculinity

being re-shaped to fit in with these emergent social and economic

conditions?

This thesis will argue that ‘gender restabilisation’ is not just happening in

relation to femininity. Indeed, it could not. As Imelda Whelehan noted in

2000, moral panics around an identity crisis in men could instead ‘be

regarded as a potentially healthy response; a recognition that a change in

the lives of women would necessitate a change in the lives of men, as well as

what being a man might mean’ (p. 114). New formations of femininity that

emerge in postfeminist discourse such as McRobbie’s figure of ‘the

girl…endowed with economic capacity’ seem to raise questions for the

status and formation of contemporary masculinity (2009, p. 58). To point to

patterns such as the decline in male employment rates (the proportion of

men who are economically inactive has increased from 4.9 per cent in Q2

1971 to 17.1 per cent in Q2 2011) is not to align myself with backlash

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identity shattered’ (Office for National Statistics 2011, p. 2; Coppock et al

1995, p. 3). Rather, I am interested here in how Shelia Rowbotham’s

hypothesis that ‘the creation of a new woman of necessity demands the

creation of a new man’ is borne out within these texts, though not, perhaps,

in the ways Rowbotham might have hoped (Rowbotham in Wandor 1972, p.

3). The films and television shows considered within this thesis and their

representation of masculine identities through near-ubiquitous

transformation narratives and often overt makeover paradigms suggest that

they are in some way ‘about’ this process of creating ‘new men’. Indeed, as

Steve Cohan’s tongue-in-cheek analysis of makeover showQueer Eye for the

Straight Guy(2003-2007), suggests, ‘successful straight coupling require[s]

endless negotiation between alien creatures polarized in their libidinal,

emotional and domestic needs’, resulting in a need to ‘mediate heterosexual

difference’ (2007, p. 181). The position of men within the new discursive

arrangement of postfeminism is all too often unaccounted for in feminist

writing. Gender is necessarily relational, and the way that men are

constructed, represented and governed has specific implications for

feminism and women too, especially when, as this thesis will argue,

(non-elite) men are increasingly subject to the same individualizing,

self-surveilling discourses of postfeminism as women.

McRobbie proposes that ‘the post-feminist masquerade is a strategy or

device for the restructuring of patriarchal law and masculine hegemony’

(2007b, p. 723). I would argue that in order to achieve this end, aspects of

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and neo-liberal logics of gender. This includes practices that focus on

aesthetic appearance, such as surveillance, makeover and

self-improvement via the consumption of technologies like cosmetic surgery,

services like hair removal and the leisuring of purchasing as in shopping for

clothes. However, as well as the regulation of physical appearance, one of

postfeminist culture’s dominant areas of concern is domestic life. This

encompasses not just the aesthetics of domesticity, but also its regimes and

associated labours, such as housework, childrearing and even sexual

activity, all of which are formulated into pedagogies by postfeminist

discourses. Through an ‘emphasis on showplace domesticity’ and ‘virtuoso

parenting’; the prevalence of ‘downshifting’ or ‘retreatist’ narratives; and

the continuation of sexual division of labour, ‘home’ has become a

‘problematic place’ within debates about postfeminism and indeed within

postfeminist texts themselves (Tasker and Negra 2007, p. 7; Hollows 2006,

p. 97).

If the home is, as Joanne Hollows states, a problematic space within

postfeminist discourse and discoursesaboutpostfeminism, it is surely even

more so in relation to masculinity within the postfeminist paradigm (2006,

p. 97). The separation of home and work during industrialisation in the late

eighteenth century meant that the roles of men and women ‘were

segregated into public and domestic spheres, respectively’ (Hareven 2002,

p. 35). The private sphere was imagined and constructed as a feminine

realm, while masculinity became increasingly defined by its role outside the

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manhood was legitimated through their ability to secure the needs of their

dependents’ (Davidoff and Hall 2002, p. 17). This gendering of roles and

space was formalised through the structure of the 1851 census in Britain,

which focused on profiling the occupation of the male head of household.

Such was the forcefulness of the gendered ideology of separate spheres that,

despite sources which ‘point to an intense involvement of men with their

families’, and evidence that ‘men also took an active part in setting up the

home’, men’s relationship to home remains a relatively under-examined

area in the historical study of gender (ibid, pp. 329; 387). It is also an

unexplored area of film and television studies, with works such as Kathleen

Anne McHugh’sAmerican Domesticity(1999), for example, focusing solely

on domesticity as an element of femininity. The relationship between men

and home has, in many ways, been rendered invisible both in academic

study, and in popular culture itself. This is an approach that, as Rita Felski

argues, ignores ‘the fact that men are also embodied, embedded subjects,

who live, for the most part, repetitive, familiar and ordinary lives’, and, I

would add, live much of themat home(2002, p. 353).

Given the highly unequal gender structures enforced by the ideology of

separate spheres, which made women economically dependent upon men

and ‘defined by their responsibilities as wives and mothers’ (Gillis and

Hollows 2009, p. 4), it is hardly surprising that one of second-wave

feminism’s biggest concerns was to dismantle these restrictions and ensure

that women could have equal access to the paid work, power, status and

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this is now largely recognised amongst feminists as an incomplete project.

Although ‘feminism has made huge advances in giving women the language

and the confidence to make demands in the spheres of education, work and

to a lesser extent, politics’, Whelehan notes, ‘no one could convince men it

was in their interest to take up their share of the housework’ (2000, p. 16).

Thus, women are left with the dual burden of paid work and unpaid

domestic labour, and men’s relationship to, and role within, the home

remains invisible, unspoken and therefore unsocialised.

With the transformations in the labour market outlined above, the rise in

households where both partners work full time, and a small rise in

households in which men who are economically inactive in order to care for

children or home (increased by one percentage point since 1994, to 6% of

economically inactive men) – it is perhaps unsurprising that the domestic

sphere is a contested realm within postfeminist culture (Office for National

Statistics 2011, p. 19). On the one hand, the feminist inflections within

popular culture seem to recognise the act of ‘leaving home’ as a ‘necessary

condition of liberation’ (Giles 2004, p. 141-2). As Hollows notes, feminist

theory can often be seen to entail a rejection of domesticity and home, and,

as a result, she has observed ‘an increasing fascination with the domestic as

a forbidden pleasure’ (Hollows 2006, p 98). In other arenas of postfeminist

culture, home has been re-affirmed as the ‘proper’ place for women.

Framed within the logic of postfeminism, home is presented in various

media forms as a desirable choice, not an entrapment, and as expressive, not

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of ‘housewife chic’ as one of the key features of ‘chick flicks’ of the 1990s and

2000s, a formation of femininity that is also highly visible on television in

both fiction and non-fiction formats, and in women’s magazines and

advertising. All of this tremendously productive work on the ‘contextual and

historical’ investments and meanings within the site of domesticity in

postfeminist culture, however,stillleaves us with the question men’s

meanings, roles and functions within domestic life for men. This is an

especially pressing omission given that the available statistics suggest that

men’s role within the home is more involved than at any stage since the

separation of spheres (Hollows 2006, p. 114). In undertaking the viewing for

this project, I was struck by just how many contemporary media texts frame

their male protagonists, whether the ‘ordinary’ participants of lifestyle

television or the romantic comedy hero, within the domestic milieu. Very

few of the texts in question focus on the men’s public lives as anything other

than a secondary concern, but the re-formulation of their domestic spaces,

routines and habits is often the focus of entire shows. Writing aboutQueer

Eye for the Straight Guy, Cohan suggests that ‘the appeal of the series for

many women lies in its mission of softening masculinity’s rough edges for

successful male-female cohabitation’, even going as far as to describe the

series as ‘domestic rehabilitation…of straight men for the benefit of their

women’ (2007, p. 180). Throughout this thesis then, I am interested in what

each text has to say about the relationship between men and domesticity,

with the aim of making visible specific formations and themes that might

help us to better understand the historical and emergent characteristics of

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Before I outline in brief the structure of the thesis, I would like to take some

time to discuss issues of corpus selection and definition. As the work

undertaken in this introduction might have indicated, broadly, my focus is

upon texts that could be characterised as ‘postfeminist’ and that make the

interactions between masculinity and feminine culture their object. In

particular, I am interested in texts that place emphasis upon transformation

of a male protagonist or utilise, to whatever extent, some formulation of a

makeover paradigm. The term postfeminist itself imparts an imprecise

historical periodization, but more specifically, I am interested in texts that

emergeafterthe period usually conceived of as presenting an overt media

backlash against feminism. Lad culture, which emerged in Britain in the

early 1990s is, for example, largely excluded from this study. Instead, my

focus is on emergent formations of masculinity that express a concern with

the positioning of men within postfeminist governance. Diane Negra noted

in 2009 that it is in ‘roughly the last 15 years ’ that ‘postfeminist

concepts/definitions of women’s interests, desires, pleasures and lifecycles

[have] become thoroughly persuasive and ideologically normative’ (Negra

2009, p 8). Another socio-cultural context that I believe is instructive here is

the market launch in 1998 of Viagra, a drug to treat erectile dysfunction.

Viagra’s launch and promotion has specific implications for temporal

conceptions of masculinity and virility that will be explored further in the

last chapter of this thesis. Taking all of these factors together, I believe that a

focus upon texts produced within the period between the mid-1990s and

the writing of this thesis in 2012 provides a satisfactory temporal

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texts, although I do not, of course, shy away from the analysis of earlier

television programmes and films should their consideration prove

instructive to the arguments within.

Similarly, in line with existing scholarly work on postfeminism that sees the

sensibility as a broadly Anglo-American one, my focus here is upon both

British and American texts, viewed within a British cultural context. As

Yvonne Tasker and Diane Negra highlight, ‘postfeminism is a pervasive

phenomenon of both British and American culture, often marked by a high

degree of discursive harmony evidenced in…“transit” texts’ (2007, p. 13). It

is not only, then, that this thesis is concerned with both British and

American texts, but also that their ‘decidedly transatlantic’ address and

construction, and their position within a global film and television economy,

informs their inclusion and my analysis of them (Tasker and Negra 2007, p.

13).

Finally, and again in common with Negra, I am interested in both filmand

television texts, believing that a discursive context as visible, buoyant and

prominent as postfeminism exists not in one medium, form or genre, but

through repetition of its key messages, concerns and formations across a

number of different media outputs. As Negra writes, ‘in a synergistic media

environment, analysis of a single medium holds less explanatory power for

any account that seeks to explain the complex relations between social life

and media representation’ (2009, p. 9). Therefore, what follows is a study

that embraces cross-media analysis as a way of understanding the ‘“echo

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virulent discourse in contemporary culture (ibid.). However, I also hope to

attend within these discussions to the specificities of the different media

forms and genres under consideration here, and how their specific

inflections, formats and structures might affect or enhance their

presentation of postfeminist formations of masculinity.

This thesis uses close textual analysis as its primary methodology. The audio

and visual constructions of each text are examined closely in order to unpick

the meanings, messages and representations that are offered to the viewing

audience. Much as a poem would be analysed by focusing on the significance

of lexical choice, its syntactical arrangement, or its meter, close textual

analysis provides a way of accessing not just the meaning of a text, but also

the ways in which it conveys those meanings to its audience. The three

television and film genres analysed within this thesis are notable for their

repetitive nature. Textual analysis allows us to access and understand the

significance of both the repetitions and patterns, and the specific iterations

of gender in individual texts.

In the first chapter, I examine the production of ideal postfeminist

masculinities within makeover and lifestyle television. Underpinned by an

explicit narrative of heterosexual coupling, such programmes attempt to

reform deficient masculinity across a wide range of aspects of ‘lifestyle’,

including appearance, domestic skills and interior life. As well as the

application of the previously feminine paradigm of makeover to men, I am

also interested in exploring here the numerous ways in which the male

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and their increasing application to masculine formations of identity.

Television’s situation of these lifestyle interventions within the home sparks

off an investigative strand that will continue throughout the thesis into the

other genres of film and television texts discussed; an enquiry that is

concerned with the relationship between men and private space, and the

ways in which postfeminist media increasingly seek to problematise and

then ‘fix’ men’s relationships with the domestic sphere.

It is this project that is extended in my second chapter, which focuses on

postfeminist formations of masculinity in the contemporary homebuilding

sitcom. This is explored through close textual analysis of the significance of

the expressive studio sets that represent domestic spaces. In the

homebuilding sitcom, the private spaces of apartments are not only

re-presented to the viewer each week, but are also frequently foregrounded by

the narrative conflicts that occur within individual episodes. This chapter

also examines the workings of narratives of male transformation in a genre

that has repeatedly been characterised as narratively static. I argue that the

episodic ‘reset’ function of the sitcom enables it to act as a space in which

emergent masculine identities, or aspects of these, can be ‘tried out’ and

worked through without the threat of destabilisation to the gender order.

Finally, I examine a genre of film that seems almost to be born out of a

desire to explore these emergent postfeminist formations of masculinity –

the romantic sex comedy. Itself an example of an emergent form that

represents the encounter of masculinity with a generic area previously

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has provided a space for the articulation and interrogation of numerous

anxieties and tensions over the role of men in contemporary society. In this

chapter, I examine the various formations of contemporary postfeminist

masculinity that emerge as key character types within the genre and the

thematic continuities that these present when considered in the light of

makeover television and the situation comedy. In the romantic sex comedy,

men are placed as protagonists, and it is their transformation and

conversion into an ideal romantic partner that forms the narrative focus.

Once again, men’s relationship to the home is explored in this intensely

suburban, domestically-located subgenre.

Although my focus here is upon the recent past, in an era that I find

particularly compelling in terms of the new (sometimes conflicting)

demands and requirements of masculine identity, I am also interested in

attending to the historicity of such discourses. As I have mentioned, I am

always aware that what is under discussion in this thesis is not the final

product of postfeminist masculinities, but rather masculinity in process, an

ever-shifting and diverse compilation of images, representations, values,

roles, norms and ideals. Nonetheless, there are strong and resonant patterns

to be found in the media representations and texts discussed within,

patterns that are only made stronger by paying attention to their historical

precedents. Following Williams’ model, the cultural process of this

repositioning of gender involves interaction between residual, dominant

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exploration of how men are being recruited to the postfeminist project

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A SUBJECT FOR THE NOUGHTIES: AN UNMARRIED MAN

In my examination of homebuilding situation comedies in the previous

chapter, I argued that paying close attention to production and set design

allows us to observe paradigms and patterns of masculine domesticity as

presented by popular media forms. Masculine domestic spaces may initially

appear to be organised around dysfunction, but actually work to provide

spaces for male bonding and leisure, and freedom from domestic labour.

Single men’s homes are contrasted to feminine or coupled homes, and

spaces must change in order to accommodate women and heterosexual

relationships. Men’s homes simultaneously display and closet the

heterosexual identities of their inhabitants. The expressive function of

domestic space in relation to masculinity will continue to be a thread of

concern as I progress into analysis of a recent contemporary sub-genre of

Hollywood film.

The previous chapter also examined the ways in which Raymond Williams’

concept of dominant, residual and emergent elements of cultural process

can be mapped onto representations of masculinity in the contemporary

homebuilding sitcom. This chapter will expand this by identifying and

analysing several formations of masculinity that emerge from key character

types of the male-centred romantic comedy film. Within this genre, we can

see the prioritising of several key formations that are used to map wider

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on lifestyle television and the sitcom has suggested, a focus on life-stage, in

particular early adulthood, emerges as a key theme of texts concerned with

formations of postfeminist masculinity. Anxieties about masculinity in

postfeminist texts are frequently articulated in relation to these key life

stages, and men’s adherence to the norms and expectations of their gender

at this stage. The romantic comedy films that I discuss within this chapter

bring this to the fore, through their persistent reiteration of key formations

of masculinity such as the ‘playboy bachelor’ and the ‘man-child’. These

repeated figures are also placed within narratives that repeat a trajectory of

change and growth in order to achieve appropriate (adult) masculinity

through coupling. This can be read not only as a repeated generic narrative

structure of contemporary romantic comedy films, a significant finding in

itself, but also a reiteration of this storyacrossgenres and media forms,

expressing the same concerns and anxieties about masculinity as articulated

in the lifestyle television shows and situation comedies already discussed.

This chapter will examine the ways in which figures such as the playboy

bachelor and the man-child are represented as ‘bad cases’ of masculinity in

need of reformation, and examine the narratives of transformation that are

applied to the characters. Like the men in the lifestyle makeover shows, the

romantic comedy narrative demands that these men become ‘choosable’ by

postfeminist women, and ready for long-term heterosexual romance. As in

the lifestyle makeover show, several key areas emerge as being significant in

relation to these transformations, and across the two seemingly disparate

media genres there are strong overlaps in what is reformed within the

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and training and acquisition of new skills all play a part within narratives in

both genres. The extended running-time and fictional nature of the

cinematic text allows for more in-depth character development, and thus

the subjectivity of characters is given more space. Therefore, part of my

focus will be on how men’s feelings and emotions are represented,

expanding upon the emergent discourse identified within lifestyle television

that indicated that men too are increasingly required to perform

emotion-work both publicly and privately.

Firstly, however, I would like to give some space to discussion of why I

believe this specific genre of film, the male-centred romantic comedy,

should be a central object of study in relation to the issue of postfeminist

masculinities. Indeed, it is the case that many genres, from many different

periods of film history, deal with the theme of male transformation – a

protagonist’s journey, both literal and metaphorical, is of course one of the

oldest narrative structures, as highlighted by Joseph Campbell in his study of

the monomyth (1949). In this chapter I am interested in not just aesthetic

transformations, but also transformation of the protagonist’s skills and

values, a strategy that undoubtedly situates these romantic comedies within

a much longer tradition of Hollywood films with male central protagonists.

It is also significant that the films under consideration here emerge and gain

popularity at the same time as the superhero film, another genre that deals

with male transformations (in possibly a more literal way), enjoys a massive

resurgence. In isolating the romantic comedy, then, it is not my wish to deny

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postfeminist masculinities. The romantic comedy, however, particularly in

the noughties, has exhibited some interesting generic transformations that

have put not just men, butmasculinity, at its centre. The genre’s emphasis on

heterosexual coupling aligns it with many of the other texts discussed

within this thesis, where a monogamous relationship with a member of the

opposite sex is positioned as the goal. Recent studies of romantic comedy

have noted that the genre can be seen as providing ‘an imaginary way of

dealing with real issues, often by the imaginary reconciliation of real and/or

intractable oppositions faced by a particular culture and society’ (King 2002,

p. 55). The romantic comedy provides a space for the types of negotiation

around gender and society that this thesis has argued are particularly

intensified in the current moment. Frank Krutnik argues that ‘the various

historical cycles of Hollywood romantic comedy are all driven by a process

of negotiation between traditional conceptions of heterosexual monogamy

and an intimate culture that is constantly in flux’ (Krutnik 2002, p. 130).

This chapter is interested in how the most recent cycle, the romantic sex

comedy, attempts to work through these tensions through its focus on

potential postfeminist formations of masculinity.

DEFINING THE ROMANTIC SEX COMEDY

I would like to take some time here to grapple with issues of corpus

definition and, more specifically, my own personal struggle over what to call

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first identified this shift in her 2006 genre study of the romantic comedy,

uses the term ‘hommecom’ (p. 107). However, ‘hommecom’ is not a

recognisable term to the vast majority of film viewers (or even academics). I

would argue that to employ a term as a generic descriptor it has to be, or

have the potential to be, picked up in the vernacular. Six years have passed

since the publication of McDonald’s book, and I have yet to see the term

appear in the popular or trade press, much less be used as a marketing

category for these types of film. Furthermore, other academics working on

this group of films have chosen not to employ McDonald’s term. In a recent

book chapter, David Hansen-Miller and Rosalind Gill analyse a similar

corpus of films that they label ‘lad flicks’ or ‘lad movies’. However, the term

‘lad’ has a national and temporal specificity that links it to British

masculinity in the 1990s, and thus I find their application of the term

directly onto a Hollywood-dominated genre problematic (Hansen-Miller and

Gill, 2011, pp. 36 – 50). Though I do agree with much of their analysis of the

films involved, and indeed many of their definitions of corpus, in the

absence of any evidence that ‘lad’ is a culturally significant or recognisable

category within American popular culture, I would suggest that using it as a

generic descriptor for films likeThe 40-Year-Old Virgin(Judd Apatow, 2005)

andRole Models(David Wain, 2008), as Hansen-Miller and Gill do, is

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‘Dick flick’ has been suggested to me, which makes a useful phonetic link to

the ‘chick flick’ (presumably the counterpart to the films under discussion

here) but divorces the films from any suggestion that women might want to

watch them, and overlooks the rather significant role of the

romance/coupling plot that is at the centre of the films under discussion.91

‘Bromance’, a neologism referring to a close male homosocial bond, is a term

popular in the trade and critical press, frequently being used by writers for

Variety,Film CommentandSight & Soundto describe films such asThe

Change-Up(David Dobkin, 2011),I Love You, Man(John Hamburg, 2009),

andThe Muppets(James Bobin, 2011) (Chang 2011, p. 15; Brunick 2009, p.

69; Mayer 2012, p. 75). While ‘bromance’ clearly emerges as an important

element of many of these films, the degree to which male bonding is

privileged varies widely, and again the term erases any notion of the

sub-genre’s (rather insistent, as I will argue) preoccupation with heterosexual

coupling. A study of the DVD cases for these films makes things no clearer:

the generic descriptor most commonly employed on the DVD covers/cases

for these films is the blank and rather unrevealing ‘comedy’ which, arguably,

is a mode, not a genre. Key films in the sub-genre are described on their

91Gary Needham, amongst others, has suggested this.

Concise Oxford English Dictionary © 2008 Oxford University Press:

lad/lad/

▶noun 1. Brit. informal a boy or young man.

(lads) Brit. a group of men sharing recreational or working interests.

Brit. a boisterously macho or high-spirited man 2. Brit. a stable worker (regardless of age or sex –DERIVATIVES

laddishadjective,

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packaging as: ‘a laugh-out--loud comedy classic’, ‘outrageous comedy’,

‘hilarious hit comedy’ (Knocked Up[Judd Apatow, 2007]); ‘hysterically

funny’ (Forgetting Sarah Marshall[Nicholas Stoller, 2008]); ‘outrageous

comedy’ (She’s Out of My League[Jim Field Smith, 2008]), while the DVD

packaging forThe 40-Year-Old Virginmakes no written reference to any

generic category at all. Those that do mention the romance elements of the

films do so in terms that frame them as a ‘new’ or ‘funnier’ take on an old

genre: e.g. ‘the coolest rom-com of the year’ (The Switch[Josh Gordon, Will

Speck, 2010]); a ‘romantic comedy with a brain’ (How To Lose A Guy in 10

Days[Donald Petrie, 2003]). Early precursors to the genre are also

interesting in their choice of description – 2002’s40 Days and 40 Nights

(Michael Lehmann) describes itself as ‘America’s first no-sex comedy’ and

About A Boy(Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz, 2003), released the same year,

specifically highlights the ‘newness’ of its male-centred approach: ‘must

have hit comedy but this time it isn’t about a girl butAbout A Boy’.

What is significant about my difficulty in finding the appropriate

terminology to describe these films is the contrast with the familiar and

established nomenclature of feminine culture. The phrase ‘chick flick’ can

encompass a wide variety of films across genres, yet, as Ferriss and Young

argue ‘we know one when we see one’; as a marker of tone, theme, content

and address, the term is extremely evocative (Ferriss and Young 2008, p. 2).

I am struck here, therefore, by the ease with which names emerge and are

established for ‘girl’ culture but not for masculine culture. This is perhaps

Figure

FIGURE 1.1 – ATTEMPTING

FIGURE 1.1

– ATTEMPTING p.16
FIGURE 1.2 –MARKETING IMAGE FOR

FIGURE 1.2

–MARKETING IMAGE FOR p.17
FIGURE 1.3 – PRODUCTS FROM

FIGURE 1.3

– PRODUCTS FROM p.17
FIGURE 1.4 – MASCULINE TRAINING

FIGURE 1.4

– MASCULINE TRAINING p.19
FIGURE 1.6 – ‘YOU GOGIRL’: GAZING AT THE

FIGURE 1.6

– ‘YOU GOGIRL’: GAZING AT THE p.23
FIGURE 5.2 – THE 40-YEAR-OLD

FIGURE 5.2

– THE 40-YEAR-OLD p.59
FIGURE 5.3 – THE PLAYBOYBACHELOR INGIRLFRIENDS PAST GHOSTS OF (MATTHEWMCCONAUGHEY)

FIGURE 5.3

– THE PLAYBOYBACHELOR INGIRLFRIENDS PAST GHOSTS OF (MATTHEWMCCONAUGHEY) p.67
FIGURE 5.11 – JACOB’S BACHELOR PAD IN CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE

FIGURE 5.11

– JACOB’S BACHELOR PAD IN CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE p.74
FIGURE 5.24 – THE MANCHILD

FIGURE 5.24

– THE MANCHILD p.90
FIGURE 5.27 – ‘THE PRETTY YOUNG THINGS’ (LEIBOVITZ, 2009)

FIGURE 5.27

– ‘THE PRETTY YOUNG THINGS’ (LEIBOVITZ, 2009) p.92
FIGURE 5.26 – ‘FORD’S FOUNDATION’ (LEIBOVITZ, 2006)

FIGURE 5.26

– ‘FORD’S FOUNDATION’ (LEIBOVITZ, 2006) p.92
FIGURE 5.31 – ALISON’S MORNING

FIGURE 5.31

– ALISON’S MORNING p.95
FIGURE 5.29 – THE MANCHILD AT

FIGURE 5.29

– THE MANCHILD AT p.95
FIGURE 5.32 – THE EXTERIOR OF

FIGURE 5.32

– THE EXTERIOR OF p.97
FIGURE 5.36 – ANDY’S BEDROOM

FIGURE 5.36

– ANDY’S BEDROOM p.99
FIGURE 5.38 – ANDY’S EMPTY SPACE

FIGURE 5.38

– ANDY’S EMPTY SPACE p.102
FIGURE 5.40 – PETER LOUNGESWAITING FOR HIS GIRLFRIEND

FIGURE 5.40

– PETER LOUNGESWAITING FOR HIS GIRLFRIEND p.106
FIGURE 5.41 – FORGETTING SARAH

FIGURE 5.41

– FORGETTING SARAH p.106
FIGURE 5.43 –

FIGURE 5.43

p.106
FIGURE 5.44 –

FIGURE 5.44

p.108
FIGURE 5.46 – RETURNING TO

FIGURE 5.46

– RETURNING TO p.110
FIGURE 5.48 – THE HOME AS A

FIGURE 5.48

– THE HOME AS A p.112
TABLE IN THE BREAK-UP

TABLE IN

THE BREAK-UP p.112
FIGURE 5.52 – CAL

FIGURE 5.52

– CAL p.116
FIGURE 5.54 – CAL

FIGURE 5.54

– CAL p.117
FIGURE 5.58 – DRESSING MONTAGE

FIGURE 5.58

– DRESSING MONTAGE p.118
FIGURE 5.56 – SHOPPING MONTAGE

FIGURE 5.56

– SHOPPING MONTAGE p.118
FIGURE 5.60 –

FIGURE 5.60

p.121
FIGURE 5.61 –

FIGURE 5.61

p.125
FIGURE 5.63 –

FIGURE 5.63

p.126